What the CAA is; what it is not – analysis
Opposition parties have mounted an anti-government campaign using the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, (CAA), as the lightening rod. They have spread misinformation, inflamed passions, mobilised forces inimical to the country’s interests, and incited violence. Riding on a false narrative, they became party to stone pelting, destruction of public property, arson and attacks on the police forces going against the Gandhian principles of peaceful protests. Some even went to the extent of inviting foreign intervention.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at Ramlila Maidan on December 22, effectively explained and sought to remove misunderstandings among citizens about the CAA. Many peaceful rallies since then have demonstrated the power of the true narrative.
The CAA is an affirmation of our diverse and inclusive Indian civilisation, which dates back nearly 7,000 years. Our existence as a modern nation-state, anchored in a constitutional republic, represents only 1% of our history. The inclusive character of this civilisational heritage is reflected by the fact that Malabar Jews, Syrian Christians, Parsis of erstwhile Persia, or my parents, fleeing the violence of Partition, have all found a safe home in our land. It draws inspiration from, and is a continuation of, this civilisational value system. Given that the persecution of religious minorities is rampant in these countries, the CAA seeks to secure those individuals in India who have fled from Pakistan and elsewhere due to the harsh conditions they lived through on account of their religion.
What the CAA does not do is equally important. It neither alters nor challenges the rights of any Indian citizen, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, sect, ethnicity or race. The narrative that the CAA threatens religious minorities in India is ignorance at best, and treacherous at worst. Stoking fear in the minds of the citizenry on religious grounds, particularly by co-opting the young of this country, is reminiscent of the British imperialist playbook.
The CAA is also not an “open invitation” to citizens of India’s three neighbouring countries. With the cut-off date set at December 31, 2014, the CAA seeks to confer citizenship only on those refugees who are already in India, and are currently disenfranchised. It is akin to conferring property rights on families living in Delhi’s unauthorised colonies.
There has also been a deliberate attempt to stoke confusion on the “exclusionary” nature of the CAA by suggesting that it is not just religious minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis) that face persecution in these three countries. A better understanding of law, history, anthropology and sociology should clear such doubts. First, these countries are Islamic republics. The question of Muslim persecution on religious grounds in Islamic countries, therefore, should not arise. This does not mean that Muslims who are otherwise persecuted in these countries cannot apply for Indian citizenship — in fact, in the last five years, Prime Minister Modi’s government has granted citizenship to nearly 600 Muslims from these very countries. The Opposition’s claim, therefore, that the CAA is somehow anti-Muslim or undermines India’s secular credentials rings hollow.
Second, there has been an attempt to invoke Article 14 of the Constitution to discredit the CAA. A careful reading of the Article, along with the precedents set over the last seven decades, suggests that the “reasonable classification” provision was made exactly for the purpose of an act such as the CAA. It should be viewed from the lens of affirmative action — bestowing rights upon those who have historically been discriminated against.
Third, each modern nation has the prerogative to define the criteria for according citizenship. Even the most developed countries do not provide citizenship rights unconditionally or indiscriminately. In modern-India, refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Uganda or Bangladesh, have been given asylum. The CAA does not alter this commitment to human rights; rather, it reaffirms India’s position as an upholder of humanitarian values.
And, last, as PM Modi made clear, there has been no discussion of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the government. To search for mysterious link between the CAA and NRC, particularly when the CAA has a cut-off date of December 31, 2014, smacks of the vote bank politics the Congress and its various so-called “secular” bedfellows have been indulging in for decades. This vote bank politics was rejected first in 2014, and then, in 2019.
Swami Vivekananda in his address at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago had remarked: “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.” PM Modi’s government has enacted a law that builds on this legacy of India. The CAA, in fact, reaffirms India’s secular credentials by providing security to individuals who already reside within our borders. Those who are blinded by fake narratives are attempting to destroy India’s delicate social fabric. It is incumbent upon us as responsible Indians to reject such forces and uphold the values of our civilisational heritage.
Hardeep S Puri is Union minister of housing and urban affairs, civil aviation, and Union minister of State, Commerce & Industry
The views expressed are personal